Mickey Munoz took off on a wave at the famed Malibu surf spot, and suddenly Laird Hamilton appeared behind him on a massive board.
Munoz, whose hot-dogging style back in the ’50s helped gain him celebrity status in surfing circles, pulled off the wave and apologized for getting in Hamilton’s way — then noticed something about the fellow surfer’s equipment.
Hamilton, one of the most well-known surfers in the world, was clutching a paddle. His board was a 12-footer usually used for tandem surfing. Munoz watched in awe as Hamilton shot the pier twice, something Munoz had never seen in his decades surfing there.
That was 14 years ago — a moment that shifted Munoz from riding traditional surfboards to jumping on a board with the then-new sport of stand-up paddling.
Stand-up paddling quickly became one of the fastest-growing sports around, and while some surfers turned their nose up at it, Munoz became an advocate.
An event at Dana Point’s Baby Beach called the Salt Life Mongoose Cup is held in his name. It’s a sport that has allowed this 79-year-old, one of the most iconic surfers around, to still rip.
Munoz, who lives in Capo Beach, moved to California from New York at age 8, landing with his family in Santa Monica Canyon, close enough to walk to the beach.
He was an avid swimmer, and it wasn’t long before he started exploring Los Angeles County’s beaches. He’d surf anything he could get his hands on — from surf mats, to inner tubes, to big prone paddleboards, to little belly boards made out of plywood.
He stood on his first wave at age 10 — and his life as a surfer began.
A few years later, Munoz’s mom loaned him money so he could buy a surfboard and he became one of the familiar faces in the tightknit group of surfers who hung out at “the Bu.”
“We would spend every day we could there, and every hour in the water,” he said.
When Hollywood took notice of the surf lifestyle and started making Gidget movies, Munoz threw on a wig and became a stunt double for the 1959 film, standing in for Sandra Dee. He earned the nickname “Mongoose” and developed a stance while surfing that became known as the “Quasimodo.”
But the California beaches weren’t enough. So in 1954 he wrote a note: Dear mom, going to Hawaii …”
Munoz and a few other surfers rented an apartment during big-wave season in Waikiki for $25 a month, and he worked as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. After a few winters he and a group of friends became the first to brave the pounding surf at Waimea Bay, the only spot ridable when other breaks got too maxed out.
“We didn’t realize until later how significant it was,” he said.
Munoz got into the surfboard-making business, shaping and glassing, marketing and promoting. He relocated to Orange County because Los Angeles beaches were getting too crowded. It was also the hotbed for surfing creativity: Filmmaker Bruce Brown was here; and Hobie Alter — credited for creating the modern-day surfboard — was based in Dana Point, as were others including board shaper Dale Velzy and manufacturer Clark Foam.
Munoz also was a boat enthusiast and began building catamarans.
He’s had a boat moored in the Dana Point harbor since the ’70s, so when his newfound love for stand-up paddleboarding started taking off, that’s when he saw his two passions coming into conflict. “I could see there were naive paddlers and boaters — paddlers going down the middle of the canal, boaters (angry) because they can’t maneuver like a paddleboard can,” he said.
So the Mongoose Cup, held in April, was born eight years ago. There are relay races, clinics and a festival area with the latest gear. Most important to Munoz, it highlights the safety of the sport and raises funds for the Sport of Kings Foundation, which supports health care costs for board builders, who are mostly self-employed and endure toxic chemicals in the production of boards.
Stand-up paddling has helped Munoz continue a lifelong passion. As he was getting older, it became more difficult to pop up on a surfboard from the lying-down position.
“For me, I look at it as the catalyst for more creative ways for surfing,” he said. “I never lost my passion for it. I’ve learned where to surf and what to surf, so I still get waves and still have a smile on my face. It doesn’t get better than that.”